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Michael Welch Charts a Full-Speed Ahead Course for E.J. Welch Company

Posted By NAFCD, Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Michael "Mike" Welch is President of E.J. Welch Company, a leading wholesale flooring distributor that has been catering to contractors, dealers, design professionals, and the installation trade since 1962. In addition to flooring products, the company engages in the wholesale distribution of installation supplies, tools, and accessories. Azrock, Johnsonite, Raskin, and Tarkett are just a few of the product lines it represents. With locations and offices in Chicago, the St. Louis area, Indianapolis, Green Bay, and more, E.J. Welch has quite the geographic reach throughout the nation's Midwest.

Mike Welch recently sat down with NAFCD to discuss the challenges of the business, the success of his company's separate online division, and where he thinks the industry is headed. What follows is our chat:

NAFCD: What do you see are our industry's one or two biggest challenges of the moment?

MICHAEL WELCH: For the industry, the biggest challenge currently is no secret. It’s the critical shortage of flooring installers. The second biggest challenge in my opinion -- as it relates to independent distribution -- is building and demonstrating value to relevant stakeholders.

NAFCD: What makes your company stand out? What makes it unique? 

MW: The support and value that our people bring to our customers. Our people genuinely care about our customers' success and well-being, and we’re built for the long-haul. We recognize opportunity is as much about customer need as it is about timing. We know when a customer chooses to do business with us, it’s a mutually beneficial and long-term relationship. We’re unique because our management team is lean, empowered, and expected to move the company forward. Our meetings are short and decisive.

NAFCD: You operate a separate online division called Tools4Flooring, yes? Could you provide some details? 

MW: We were very fortunate to be one of the first e-commerce sites in 2004 selling the flooring installer. We now sell to a broad range of customer types around the world and have shipped to over 70 countries. Canada, the U.K., and Australia are our largest markets outside the U.S. We often scratch our head as to what the Scandinavian countries do with all the hardwood nailers purchased!

NAFCD: What have been the benefits of having such a Web-based store, particularly for a distributor?

MW: For us, it has deepened and strengthened relationships with our wonderful vendor partners. We are now the largest customer to seven key vendors, and we have brought them into new markets that they had not ever imagined selling.

NAFCD: Have you implemented any strategies or promotions in the last year or so that have been particularly successful that you'd like to share with the readers?

MW: Nothing that is new or unique. We are continuing to improve -- make them sexier and more appealing -- our e-mail marketing campaigns, and we continue to work with third parties to add more installation events at our advanced training facility in Elk Grove Village, Ill.

NAFCD: What is the favorite part of your job?

MW: Watching our own people develop and prosper!

NAFCD: How has the business changed since you first became involved?

MW: (laughing) Since the steam engine hadn’t been invented at that time, you can only imagine! Seriously, consolidation within the industry is the biggest change, which brings both challenges and opportunities. In 1981, we seldom passed on any new product line opportunity. And the products were likely produced domestically. Today, there is too much product chasing too few means to market. We’ve all had a chuckle with the poorly written e-mails from overseas companies looking for “you partner” in U.S. As for other ways the business has changed, some say it’s “less fun” today. I find that to be a statement from folks near retirement, although I would say, it is definitely a more competitive environment today.

NAFCD: Was there some business advice given to you earlier in your career that has stuck with you?

MW: Yes. In regard to vendor negotiations, “Give a little, grab a LOT” was the advice from my Uncle Mike, who owned Michael Halebian & Co. It was tongue-in-cheek advice that I’ll never forget, likely because he was just bigger than life. My cousin, Michael Halebian Jr., had taken over the business many years ago and they have become a dominant flooring distributor in the Northeast. The other advice in various forms over the years has to do with the importance of careful hiring. Every successful business owner recognizes this, yet when the labor market tightens, we may compromise on our requirements or standards to fill a position.

NAFCD: How has the NAFCD been of benefit to you personally and your company, in general?

MW: In the early years of my career, the NAFCD was hugely beneficial. Compiled reports on distributor members’ operations allowed us to benchmark and identify areas for improvement. Networking and building relationships, however, has been the most significant benefit. So much opportunity came about through these relationships and the friendships that developed have truly enriched my life. We stopped supporting the NAFCD in the late '90s as we felt the educational component had become “old news.” What we failed to realize is that our company had grown and that our younger executives could benefit as I did in their early years. We’re happy to be back, and I believe the NAFCD Board and management have done an excellent job of making the association very relevant and beneficial to all members.

NAFCD: What has you most excited for the year ahead?

MW: Our company joined the Merit Distribution Group earlier this year. Our combined resources and a commitment to strengthen our operation and grow market share is very exciting. The best part is that our employees are now able to see the same opportunities I recognized in the early stages of discussion with MDG. It’s full-speed ahead! Additionally, business is always more exciting when there is optimism about the economy.

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